So I had a chat today with somebody familiar with the thinking of the Prime Minister, and this person said this business of Stephen Harper preparing to call an election instead of waiting for the opposition is serious.
What follows has been reported by others in recent days, but I kind of needed to hear it myself before I’d believe it. I now believe it.
The prime minister has concluded that governing in the current environment is “like swimming in molasses,” I’m told. (Questions about why this would be the PM’s perception now when it wasn’t, as far as anybody was hearing, his perception the last time Parliament was actually sitting are perfectly valid.)
Stephen Harper has decided there’s no way the opposition parties will allow the government to stay there until October, 2009. So he figures he might as well cut all this short. To make sure his perception is accurate he is seeking meetings with the opposition leaders soon. (“We’re not talking weeks here.”) The goal: to see whether Harper can cobble together some deliverable legislative agenda that gets him to Christmas. Essentially he needs one opposition leader to promise, under mutually acceptable circumstances, to refrain from voting non-confidence.
Short of that, he will decide to ask the Governor General for dissolution and an election. (The fixed-election-date act begins by stating that nothing in the act detracts from the GG’s ability to dissolve Parliament at any moment. Which it would sort of have to, because anything that did try to detract from that ability would be unconstitutional on its face.) My very strong conviction is that, more than two and a half years having elapsed since the last election, the GG would have no basis to deny dissolution and an election.
The political cost of passing a doofus-brained fixed-election act and then abandoning it as soon as the going got a little rough would remain. I have no idea how to estimate that cost.
Once he decided elections were inevitable before Christmas, Harper would be inclined to call the election before the Commons reconvened in September — because, I was told, the opposition would later ask why he bothered to sit the House if he was just going to dissolve it soon after.
So there you have it. Unless one of the opposition leaders pulls a rabbit out of his hat during these meetings with Harper, we would seem to be heading toward an election writ drop within the next few weeks. I would not altogether rule out the idea that Harper would drop the writ before the Sept. 8 by-elections.
I hate election speculation when it detracts from coverage of real things. The odd weak moment aside, I have largely abstained from the last couple of rounds of election hysteria. But I am now planning, and encouraging my colleagues to plan, on the assumption that a general election campaign will begin in September.